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Lansley: The Power of Positive Politics

Speech in London

"Today, I want to make my first contribution since the Election to our renewed debate on the future direction of our party. The speed with which leadership speculation has overtaken the constructive debate on the challenges we face is regrettable. Our Party needs to get its collective head around the task ahead and then address the question of the person best equipped to lead us. We should engage in the leadership contest only with a clear understanding of where we need to go.

Let me say first that we must not underestimate the achievements of Michael Howard's leadership of the Party. In 18 months, he ensured that we fought a focussed and professional campaign, which led the agenda much of the time. It forced Labour repeatedly on to the defensive. He gave us unity and discipline. We learnt how to secure tactical gains through targeting. We took Liberal Democrats on in battleground seats and won more from them than they did from us.

The new Members of Parliament at Westminster give us an immense fillip. We acquired momentum and Labour lost it. It is a measure of our relative position that we secured more votes in England than Labour.

We should recognise what Michael achieved, with the hand he was dealt.

But we should recognise too, that elections are won and lost over four years. The most significant point Michael Howard made in his remarks in Putney, the day after the General Election, was that he wanted his successor to have the time he didn't have.

For all our tactical successes, the last Parliament was a strategic failure.

In 1992, the Conservative Party polled 14 million votes. In 2005, we polled 8.8 million votes. Compared to 2001 our vote increased by just 410,000. Labour lost 1.17 million votes. The Liberal Democrats gained 1.17 million. For every vote gained direct from Labour, the Liberal Democrats got two. We only gained ground in London, the South East and East of England. We gained ground amongst working class voters, but lost it among AB voters.

In terms of which party was thought to have the best policies on health and education, Labour's lead over us halved compared to 2001, but on the economy their lead increased.

We increased our support among men, but lost ground among women voters. It is deeply disturbing that our support among women aged 25 - 54 fell sharply (by 4 percentage points), even while it went up among men of the same ages. If we had secured the same level of support among women as men, Labour would have lost their majority.

Is it because we are a party of men? Of 54 new Conservative MPs, only 6 are women. Of 197 Conservative MPs, only 17 are women. Of 354 Labour MPs, 97 are women - four times the proportion. If we had secured 354 seats, fewer than 50 would be women.

So when the Conservative Party fails to draw women into its positions of leadership, while the majority of new entrants to some other professions, like medicine and the law, are women, people will ask: do they represent us or understand my problems?

The fact that we announced good flexible childcare proposals late on in the campaign did not offset the fact that we had insufficient policies to support parents in bringing up their children. The phrase 'balancing work and family life' makes it sound so simple, but it is about having to make hard, painful decisions on how to maintain family income whilst also being at home and being there for the children. Sally and I know how hard these decisions are; we live with that right now.

When Jamie Oliver captured exactly what millions of parents feel about school food, did they hear us respond?

Where, in our ten words, was the recognition that family is the backbone of a strong society?

And are younger women voters unwilling to support a party which they regard as extreme?

When Labour was the party regarded as extreme, the Conservative Party was able to lead from the right. With the Labour Party seen as camped on the centre ground of politics, right-wing policies are characterised as extreme.

Of course, the political spectrum doesn't offer centrist solutions to every issue. School choice or competition and choice in health come from centre right philosophy, but are being accepted even by socialists. In Stockholm last Thursday I heard exactly how that had happened because school vouchers are a success in Sweden. The reason it is not regarded as extreme or ideological is because choice is for everyone regardless of their ability to pay.

What is the centrist view of ID cards? What is the centrist view of whether workplace pension provision should be voluntary or compulsory, opt in or opt out? In reality, there are left of centre, statist, collectivist solutions, and centre-right market - orientated, decentralised, community-based, deregulated solutions. .

When Mr. Blair talks of being "relentlessly New Labour" what he means is occupying more centre-right territory. And he hopes our response will be to push to the right. The result is that a significant proportion of the population regard us as out of line with their view. We cannot afford for this to continue. Mr Blair knows conservative centre-right policies are winning the intellectual argument. We need to win the emotional argument; show that we understand and that we know how people feel. That what we propose as policies comes from a positive sense of what our country, and every family in it needs.

I expressed much of the same analysis after the 2001 election. I said then that we need to ensure we have a party representative of the public we wish to serve. In 2001, I said that we had learnt a powerful lesson. We can have all the policies we like, even policies the public like, but if the public do not trust us, they will not endorse our policies or give us the credit for them. Labour can steal our policies and get away with it. They do; and they have.

As I put it four years ago: Governments are judged by what they do. Opposition are judged for who they are.

Remember: in 1999, the Common Sense Revolution was focussed on health and education - the Patient's Guarantee and Free Schools. In 2002, Iain Duncan Smith made "helping the vulnerable" and social justice his key emphases. This tells us how tough it is. It's not just policy. It's about the whole Party. It's about real convictions. It must be real. It must be sustained. It must be positive. It must be with a passion.

The Conservative Party has always changed as Britain and its needs have changed. We don't believe in change for its own sake, but for a purpose.

After 1979 we had passion for change. We had to defeat the power of Union barons, restore the value of money and make Britain great again. In the 1980s Margaret Thatcher's Government created a dynamic economy. They defeated Communism.

Today we face new major threats: terrorism, climate change, international poverty.

And major challenges: crime, anti-social behaviour and the fear of crime, inadequate standards of health, education and transport, businesses losing competitiveness in international markets.

These are the challenges today. We need a passion for change. And I believe that passion has to come from a love of freedom and of family. Freedom is defined negatively by some - leave me alone, don't interfere, get government off my back. But freedom must be positive. Freedom which gives hope, opportunity, prosperity and security. We must recognise that freedom is for everyone. It is freedom from poverty for a child in Tower Hamlets as much as it is freedom two miles away for the businessman in the City of London from excessive regulation.

It is a freedom to live our lives and spend our hard-earned income, for us and our families. It is freedom for enterprise to create wealth.

And it is the positive freedom from the fear of crime and anti-social behaviour.

Freedom from poverty. Freedom from ignorance. Freedom from disease. Freedom is essential to delivering sustained economic performance. Free markets, free enterprise and free trade. Giving people access to the freedom that comes with good health, high standards of education and eradicating poverty is a positive philosophy of freedom which we have to articulate. Freedom is not licence. It is not merely the absence of constraint. Positive freedom is about empowerment: it's about a child being able to go to a school which realises their potential; disabled people not being left out of employment; the single parent given support so the child has the right role model and the parent an opportunity to work. It's even about giving millions of children in Africa the basic right to live. If we believe in freedom and give people freedom, we give them hope in the future. Nothing is more important than that.

Yet all of these freedoms are not enough. Freedoms give us hope, and opportunity, but not necessarily security. Think of our children. Yes, we do give them their freedom, progressively, and help them to use that freedom to realise their hopes and dreams. But they need for more than that. They need values. They need to learn. They need to be guided. They need to gain their independence within boundaries. As they gain their freedom, they need to know that they are loved, supported and if need be, protected. They need, in short, family. Family which, in 21st Century Britain, takes many forms, but which we all know, is composed of those who love us and care for us.

Mr Blair talks about respect. Where does he think it comes from? Not from a state which nationalises compassion and puts bureaucracy in place of family.

People have come to the Conservative Party for many reasons. I came to the Conservative Party because, under Margaret Thatcher, I could see that freedom was transforming Britain's economy, bringing us prosperity.

I decided to enter politics in 1989, I remember the sense of awe and excitement at what our philosophy of freedom could achieve, when representatives of newly-free states of Central and Eastern Europe came to our 1990 Party Conference.

And, as a Conservative, I have found more. Respect for the ties that bind us together, from family to church, to nation. These are real and without them, freedom delivers opportunity, but not compassion and security.

As things stand, the public think freedom for Conservatives means " I'll do as I like and you'll lose out" and respect means "Do as I tell you." When Conservatives talk of family, people remember 'back to basics'. This has to change. Because we have to change.

We have to bring forward a new generation and new representatives for the party. To understand Britain as it is today. To be seen to lead normal lives and to share people's ambitions; where "spending more time with my family" isn't regarded by Westminster politicians as code for a leadership bid. To want to improve people's lives, but through listening, so that we respond to people's hopes. And we must be a party which through its actions secures trust. Trust is vital. Trust is indivisible. You aren't trusted a bit on this and not on that. Only by our actions will we win back trust. And it can only be earned if we are, and are seen to have integrity, to be honest, compassionate, tolerant, generous, realistic, competent, united and loyal to each other.

I know that none of this defines the detail of the policies we should pursue. I know the temptations. I do policy. I believe policy-making is a key skill. I have ideas for how policies must be shaped. Policies which harness technology and free enterprise to the challenge of climate change. Which prioritise free trade and good governance to tackle poverty. Which through a national framework of standards and funding in health and education enable competition and choice to be combined with genuine equity of access.

Policy which gives parents more viable childcare options and strengthen the family. Which sets local government free. Which reforms and simplifies tax. Which shifts power into the hands of consumers rather than bureaucracy and cuts government budgets in the process. Which reinforces local policing and local communities.

And it is not enough simply to have lots of new policies in different areas - school choice, freedom for hospitals and so on. We had lots of new policies. Many of the ideas in the excellent recent New Localism book were in fact party policy at the last election and some even at the election before that. The problem was that the public suspected our motives because they did not understand our vision. Let me give you an example. When Conservatives talk about school choice, the public imagine it is due to some Conservative obsession with markets, efficiency and productivity. They treat our policy announcements with suspicion. But if we explain first that that we have a positive vision for education, that situation will change. So we need to start by saying that we have a vision for a country where children from all backgrounds have equal and outstanding opportunities. No matter what their background, all children should be given the opportunity to fulfil their full potential. This is not happening under Labour. Under Labour, parents are forced to buy their children a good education by going private or moving to a good catchment area, where house prices are higher. Or else, like I did for my eldest daughter, fight long appeals to get the school of their choice. We must have a vision for the country where this unfairness does not happen. Then we must say that we will make our positive vision a reality through school choice. When voters understand our vision, they will be more likely to accept our policies.

Policy must come from our values. Who we are, and what we stand for must be established by us, with the people, before we set out what we offer in policy terms.

There will be those who argue that the key to our success is in our effectiveness in opposing Labour, in articulating their failures to deliver, in the aggression we show. I do not underestimate the effectiveness of this. The public and the media have negative views more easily than positive ones. But negative politics is not the same as opposition. And persuading people not to vote Labour is not the same as convincing them to vote Conservative. As Philip Gould said of Labour prior to 1997, the electorate would not accept negative attacks unless they were balanced by positive messages or themes. A critique of ones' opponents can be deployed without descending to abuse, to personal attacks or opposition for its' own sake.

It may lose us the easy 'attack dog' options, but we should be less strident and more interesting.

Not only the positive presentation of conservative priorities and policies is required, but a positive approach to the role of politicians and opposition is integral to the change we have to make.

More free votes, so that the people's representatives in Parliament make real decisions for themselves. Less obsessive control by the Whips , a recognition of the distinctive role of Parliament, effective scrutiny of expenditures, all of these are part of the positive shift. We have to encourage Conservative MPs to bring to their Westminster politics the same care and concerns which they exhibit in their constituencies. We have to develop our capacity to identify and investigate issues. To think long-term and develop campaigns. To listen to and reflect the concerns of the public. In contact not just with the party faithful, but with the public we have to reach.

To build teams, in Parliament and beyond, who are committed to their issues. Teams which combine a passion for their subject, with proven competence. Teams which ensure that we combine substance with changes in style.

Many of these ideas have been floated before, but it has been just that. Floated in, and floated off. What we have lacked is the coherence, the sustained effort, and the strategic context to see a process of reform through. Just as an election campaign itself requires focus and discipline, so does a strategy.

For the Conservative Party to reform itself, to convince the electorate that we can be trusted to reform Britain, to deliver a dynamic economy again, to deliver public service reform, to meet long-term aspirations for our children, to combat poverty and to tackle climate change, will require them to lose deep-seated prejudices against the Conservative Party. It will need us to show we have changed and that we are trustworthy and competent. That we know where we are going. That our positive principles of freedom and family mean hope for the future and positive reassurance that the Conservative Party will enable them to fulfil their aspirations.

The reforms must be phased and they must be clear: immediately to reform the Conservative Party from within; rapidly to reach out on the basis of a positive renewal of our values and principles, to show we share the public's concerns and hopes; and progressively to demonstrate, towards the election, how we will deliver hope for the people of Britain."

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